Monthly Archives:

June 2018


SWB feels the heat

It is 10-58 and the sky is still alight with hues of lemon and blue merging into one from my skylight window. Against this backdrop I draw deep breaths and feel my heart and lungs inflate with gratitude for the week that has been.

It has been a busy one for SWB. Normally I pootle about; write; do some light cleaning (VERY LIGHT, I hear the Mothership say) and then act as a slave to my off-spring from 2pm onwards. But as the term has drawn to a close, social engagements come in droves, and some work has been thrown my way. And then, just as I was starting to exhale, I got a call to ask if I would do a recording for THE TELEVISION. Can I just say, if you ever want to feel over-awed, sit round a table with comedian Colin Murphy, Alan Meban, aka Alan in Belfast, and Gemma-Louise Bond, aka That Belfast Girl, and pretend that you have something to add to the discussion.

Alan is a blogger, a social commentator and a damn fine chair at Slugger O’Toole events. He’s politically astute, seemingly unflappable and  trains people in how to manage social media.

Gemma Louise is 26 and blogs about fashion, food and lifestyle. Her website is polished and she has thousands of followers, with girls anxious to emulate her style and make-up. She works in PR which shows in her easy manner and confidence on camera; or maybe she’s just a natural. Whatever it is, the girl’s got sass, and I like her. She would be fun on a night out, and indeed I hear that she is.

Being filmed for the telly is nerve-wracking, regardless of how lovely your director and fellow panellists may be. It didn’t help that it was the hottest day of the year. The sweat ran in steady rivulets down my back, and every time I shifted in my seat I was sure I heard a squelch. Prior to filming, I’d eaten a filet of salmon a day past its use-by date. Nerves, heat and potentially dodgy fish do not make for comfortable guts, and mine aren’t well-behaved at the best of times. ‘Please God,’ I prayed, ‘don’t let me have to run, microphone trailing, for a dose of the skits.’

So there I was, willing my innards to play ball, when the chat started.

‘Helen what do you do blog about then?’ asked Conor.

‘Well, myself mainly, and my life, and any significant events that happen, in my life, to me. So basically, my blog is about me. And sustainability. I love a bit of recycling.’

‘So, you’re a narcissist then Helen?’

‘Ahh no. It’s just that I’ve no interest in anything else, for example popular culture, or make-up or any of that malarky. No, I write about me, and how writing has been a most cathartic for me, in helping me work out who I am, and what I do and how I tick.’

‘Hmmmm,’ says everyone round the table.

‘Upon reflection, Colin, you may be correct. I’m narcissism personified.’

‘So it would seem Helen.’

I felt like a right turnip.

But what could I say? My blog is more a less a journal about my life, and it has helped me figure out a few deep truths. By blogging regularly, I force myself to create more content, and hopefully develop my style.

However, I’m 39 and I’m late to this game. There is a whole technical vocabulary out there of which I’m unaware, and as we talk about the impact of laying our lives out for scrutiny and the digital footprint we’ll leave behind, I do wonder what I’m playing at. I’m not very circumspect; I don’t have a filter and maybe I need to cultivate one. Gemma Louise has pluck and nonchalance and seems to ‘get’ how these things work. But the conversation makes me question myself. What DO I want to achieve? What am I trying to sell? Me? My lifestyle? And have I become one of those ‘fake people’ who ‘curates’ a life on-line that bears little resemblance to reality?

So, when in doubt, I turn to the Stoics. I find them a helpful bunch. And last night when I came in, my husband, although the poor fecker was trying to sleep, handed me his copy of ‘The Daily Stoic.’ Read May 2nd he mumbled. And what words of wisdom there were within.

‘First tell yourself what kind of person you want to be, then do what you have to do,’ said Epictetus. In order to do this we need to: ‘spend some time- real, uninterrupted time, thinking about what’s important to you, what your priorities are.’

What good advice. The truth is, I’ve been ‘test-driving’ a new life for a while and I’ve been avoiding doing some serious thinking about what I really want to achieve.

So what do I want? Well wouldn’t it just be delightful if a nice publisher came along and read my blog and said, ‘Isn’t this just great? I’ll just collate that neatly for you, sort an agent and we’ll have a lovely book, ‘Ruminations from a Sour Wee Bastard’, ready to hit the shelves by December 1st for the Christmas rush. How does that sound Helen?’

‘That’ll do well thanks,’ I would reply. ‘Now where’s the Bollinger?’

Since I don’t live in a fairy-tale world, I may have to get off my rear end and make this happen. Blogging has been a wonderful medium for making me write and overcome my inhibitions. It has also opened up opportunities for me. I never thought the phone would ring and someone would ask ME to go on the telly and ask my opinion. And feck me, as I have discovered, television, is scary. Those people who make it look easy, well I applaud them.

So tonight, instead of feeling rubbish because I’m knackered and frankly feel a bit intimidated by the big world out there, I’m going to feel grateful for the opportunities that my new life has afforded me.

Life is by turns funny and absurd and mercurial, but since I’ve decided to throw my road map out the window, I better learn to enjoy it, and learn along the way. Thanks for joining me on the ride everyone: it means a lot.




SWB gets a phone call

Two missed calls in half an hour, it must be urgent I think. I ring home. The following chat ensues:

ME: It’s me, what’s up?

THE MOTHERSHIP: (Barely a hello) Do you EVER read over your stuff? I’m after reading the blog and you spelt Holywood wrong: twice. I presume you meant Holywood County Down, not away over yonder? One ‘L’ Helen, ONE ‘L’.

ME: It must have been auto-correct Mum, I grew up in North Down, I do know that.

THE MOTHERSHIP: No excuse. That’s why you need to proof read.

ME: I have to go on here, is there anything else?

THE MOTHERSHIP: You have to GO ON? I haven’t even STARTED on the ‘vlog’ yet, or whatever you’re calling that ‘VIDEO’ you put up.

ME: I know, I know, I repeated myself at the start.

THE MOTHERSHIP: You did, surely. But more of an issue was the enunciation, or lack of it. You were just mumbling away to yourself. I didn’t know what you were on about. Clearly you didn’t do any of exercises I’ve shown you.

ME: I just wanted to put it out before I changed my mind.

THE MOTHERSHIP: You mean you didn’t even listen to it? Do you just DO these things and FLING them out there, upon the local community?

ME: I’m going to write a blog about this conversation.

THE MOTHERSHIP: Blog about it all you like, but try and remember to use spell-check.

ME: Cheerio then mum.

THE MOTHERSHIP: Hmmph.And you with an English degree….


I swear to God, where would I be without this 75 year old editor in my life? It’s great to know that at the age of 39 your mammy can still get ripped into you about your grammar, and make you feel about nine. But as usual, the woman does have a point. Damn it.




SWB gives an update!

Poor LSB. I came in from a short run Sunday morning,  bubbling over with enthusiasm. ‘I’m going to do a vlog!’ I proclaimed. He misheard me.

‘A blog? Is this two years ago?’ he asked.

‘No, a VLOG, not a blog,’ I said.

‘Ah.’ he said. I think he sensed this day was coming. ‘Are you going to film it yourself?’

‘No, you are.’

‘Of course I am,’ he sighed. ‘Let’s get on.’

So off we went. I don’t like to overthink these things. At least I put some make-up on, unlike the Shu morning where I looked a cut. It seems everyone’s doing vlogs these days, except me that is. I looked up a few on decluttering on Friday and though ‘mine can’t be any worse, these are desperate,’ and so I’ve leapt upon the bandwagon and will incorporate them from now on, when I can be arsed doing myself up.

The point of the vlog anyway, was to document my journey towards minimalism. Hence, I rocked up to Ormeau Park yesterday morning, with a lurid green laundry hamper, filled with bags. I’d like to say that my friends looked surprised as I approached thus burdened, but they rarely so much as raised an eyebrow.

I think they quite enjoyed plundering through my items. Martina gladly took  my yoga leggings, which incidentally, looked much better on her than they did on me.  Her little daughter was the pleased recipient of a pretty white frock which she can wear now while the sun shines, or if she’s an angel in the nativity at Christmas. Both mine were lovely wee angels in the self-same dress which proves that it must wash well. Claire was delighted with the Marian Keyes book, and even put together a whole new ensemble for her child: skirt, tee-shirt and a bolero cardigan. Swanky. I even managed to offload a full bottle of fabric softener onto Louise.  Success all round.

Inevitably though, I met some opposition, and a few items look like they’re staying.

‘That’s my polar bear hat!’ yelled the small child. ‘That’s from Nana! From her holiday!’

‘Bollocks,’ I muttered. The bear hat got left in the mud and didn’t fare well in the washing machine. It looks quite deranged.

‘It doesn’t look a very happy polar bear,’ I said.

‘He’s mine,’ she replied tersely. She hasn’t looked at the frigging hat in months. However, it’s staying, as is a hideous skirt that I bought for one euro in Spain when we ran out of clean clothes last year.

A rookie mistake, having your children  present when you try to give away their stuff. Read and learn. Ah well, at least some items found a happy home.

Next, some advice for you. If you’re trying desperately not to accumulate clothes, stay THE HELL out of Concern on the Ormeau Road. I popped in on Friday and met Aileen who is their retail manager. What a dote. We trotted round together and she showed me the range of fabulous things: linen jackets from Jaeger, jumpers from Reiss, dresses from Frank Usher and Comptoir des Cotonniers. Designers aplenty and at a most affordable price. I bought a few small items and legged it, since I can’t be trusted not to scupper my attempts to live more simply.

Aileen told me something interesting. She sometimes works in the store in Hollywood where some mums from the local primary  buy their outfit for their Christmas ‘do’ in a charity shop and turn up and show off their purchases. I thought this was lovely, what with Hollywood being quite posh n’all.

Confession time thought: last week in Dublin I bought four BRAND NEW  things from a boutique called Coco. I do love a boutique, especially if there’s a sale rail, as there was here. I snapped up a skirt, a dress and two scarves for €70, and hand on heart, I will get 30 wears out of them.

I think I may have some way to go on this journey, but I’ll keep you updated along the way.


SWB gets hot and bothered

Last night I sliced a shallot with tremendous speed and dexterity. It fell away from the knife in tiny translucent cubes and I was thrilled with my ‘chefiness’. What happened to get me all euphoric over a glorified onion? It’s all down to Brian McCann, the Head Chef at Shu on the Lisburn Road. I headed over to the launch of their 2018 Apprenticeship Programme with a few other lucky bloggers and PR guru Cathy Martin, to get a taste of what working in a restaurant kitchen is like. Then to my delight, (this blogging lark had to finally start paying off some dividends) we were invited to sample our roast halibut and Eton mess with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. How very jolly.

I was excited, SO excited, that in my haste biking over to Shu that morning , I almost crashed head-on into a school boy cyclist, as he came hurtling towards me in a most devil may care manner. I came crashing down on the cross bar with a powerful thud, and foolishly, had forgotten to wear my padded cycling shorts. It’s a week later and my lady bits are only starting to feel normal.

Thus I arrived, red of face and sore of arse, with my hair in a sensible braid for health and hygiene standards and a pair of trainers so that I didn’t take the toe off myself with an errant knife. I had even forgotten to apply lipstick. This was not the case with the other bloggers, all svelte, bejewelled and in trendy rig-outs. I looked like their Brethren cousin.

But I soon forgot about aesthetics when I got into the kitchen. ‘The knives are sharp and the stoves are hot,’ Brian warned, before we trooped in to start trimming asparagus and shelling peas while we watched sous-chef Matthew whizz up a puree.

One of the first things Brian told us was that he wasn’t at all academic and had in fact ‘failed’ (his words) at school, but always been interested in food. I want to get a raft of disengaged school kids in here, to watch him fillet an 8lb halibut: slicing eight perfect  pieces with a few deft flicks of a silver blade. Despite being fluent in French, he uses words I have to go home and look up, like how to serve up ice-cream ‘rocher’ style and ‘brunoise’ his vegetables. I’m slightly in awe to be honest, like Bridget Jones when she concludes her interviews with the freedom fighter from Kosovo admitting she has ‘frankly, a bit of a crush.’

‘Phew, it’s hot in here,’ says one of the girls. ‘Hot?’ Brian raises his eyebrows. ‘The ovens aren’t even on. You want to be on a Saturday night.’ No wonder he has to keep fit. He’s only after running the London Marathon, and he knocks back an effervescent juice crammed beetroot and goji berries while we tuck into the fish and buttery potatoes. ‘I was quite a big fella,’ he says, but then I stopped eating a lot of fatty foods and we eat a lot of veg from the garden now.’ ‘Better for up here,’ he says, tapping his head.

When looking for his next apprentice, he wants passion and a desire to learn, ‘a touch of madness helps too,’ he adds.

His sous-chef smiles when I ask him what it’s like working with Brian. ‘He’s always open to ideas,’ he tells me. “If I think there’s a better or quicker way to do something, he wants to see it. Doesn’t happen that often though.’

It’s been about three years since I’ve been to Shu, but I’m booking a table soon, if only so LSB can see the competition. 😉









SWB chats about ‘Breastival’

I’m just back from Kaffe-O where I had a fun and illuminating chat with Jennifer Hanratty, co-founder and chair of Breastival Belfast, which celebrates breastfeeding and creates a community of support for mums. Breastival wasn’t around when my children were babies, and I had a shocker of a time trying to feed Georgina myself- so much so that I didn’t attempt it with child number two. I needed help, I needed support and I needed A LOT of it, and in its absence I started exclusively bottle feeding. Sadly this is what happens in Northern Ireland, as Jennifer told me this morning that 80% of mothers stop breast feeding before they are ready, or want to.


In other cultures, where mothers and grandmothers have breastfed themselves, they are on hand, night and day to offer support. Breastfeeding wasn’t the ‘done thing’ in Ireland when I was born, and I didn’t have many people to ask. I wish I’d had a network of mums or people who, like Jennifer, were knowledgeable about the process and could dispel myths and allay fears.


I worried when I heard about the Breastival movement, that it would be a bunch of breast-feeding evangelicals (you all know how I can’t be having evangelicals of ANY kind), being all judgey and self-righteous about their decision. Jennifer shakes her head when she hears my presumption, and visibly shudders at the phrase ‘breast is best.’ Her take on it is that it’s just ‘normal’ but because women in Northern Ireland haven’t been exposed to it, it’s often simpler to bottle-feed, like the generation before. What she wants, is that if women choose to breast-feed, that they have the resources available to them to do so for as long as they wish.


Breast-feeding isn’t always easy, but the healthcare professionals don’t want to openly admit this, lest it puts anyone off. Perhaps we need to think of it differently, as being a skill that we learn and improve as we find the technique which works best for us and baby. I felt that it was something that as a woman, I should instinctively ‘know’ and when it didn’t work out I self-flagellated something shocking. I think if I’d Jennifer on the other end of a phone I might have made my way out of the mire.


Keep at it Jennifer. You’ve created an inspiring movement.




SWB muses on Fathers Day


You may have woken up to instagram pics this morning, (#fathersday) of smiling, tearful dads, opening parcels of socks and slippers or craft beer if they have Hipster leanings. Here in the Sour Towers residence, we don’t much go in for Hallmark holidays. ‘I don’t buy into that bullshit’, I have been heard to utter. Last year, LSB was tasked with erecting some Ikea furniture, and a spot of light hoovering. There is photographic evidence to prove it.


The school, has however, indoctrinated the little ones well, and they have been beavering away making cards all week. Their granddad has obviously heard about my lack of diligence in this area, and when he came to babysit last night he came armed with sweets they could give, as a token of their appreciation.


Alas, this show of devotion for their dad was sadly misplaced at 6.55 this morning. I had been at a 40th on the Belfast Barge, where I’d danced the legs clean off myself, and LSB had been partying away at the Liam Gallagher concert in the park. Neither of us was happy at the early wake-up call. In they came, over and over again. I tried to block it out, but it’s hard when a small child doesn’t quite whisper in your ear, ‘I’m giving dad a computer game. And JELLY TOTS!!’ Their enthusiasm is touching, as is their ingenuity, but not prior to seven am on a Sunday morning, FFS.

When I finally made it down the stairs to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, I saw evidence of gift-giving. They had rifled through LSB’s belongings and parcelled them up with a handful of Maltesers and two Mars bars. The floor was littered with the wrapping paper I had squirreled away to reuse, covered in stickers.  The ‘porridge’ was a hefty amount of oats with milk slopped in. It had clearly been sitting for at least an hour. I scraped it into the compost bin when they weren’t looking. LSB got the Dyson out to vacuum up the trail of oats on the floor. When he envisioned getting his oats this weekend, I don’t think that’s what he had in mind.

But we then hoover and tidy and cook lunch. My friend Alison has taken the girls to a birthday party in Funtasic, so we have the house to ourselves. LSB finds an alternative love songs list on Spotify, and wiping down surfaces while listening to The Guillemots and The XX is quite nice. I’m actually not quite sure how anyone copes without an Alison, or a Brenda, for that matter, in their lives. I’m quite sure that without the pair of them I’d be institutionalised by now.


My own dad didn’t fare much better when it came to the celebrations. They came up to go for lunch in Sakura on Botanic yesterday, which was less than relaxing as my pair of menaces frolicked on the spiral staircase and hashed with their food, when it was they who had requested the sushi bar in the first place. Since it was a birthday/father’s day outing, poor dad ended up forcing money into our hands, then came home and tidied my garden.


The Mothership didn’t get off lightly either. She wandered from room to room, aghast. ‘This is terrible, terrible,’ she said, shaking her head as she registered the state of chassis in which we exist. ‘Are you not ashamed to have people in?’ She took one look at my toilet and said, ‘I’m speechless.’ ‘No mother dear,’ I said. ‘You’re not. My mother, is rarely speechless. Off she went to get the bleach. The house, since I cleaned out my resources in work (blog post on the career change to follow) and organised the fashion stall in school, has seen a sudden accumulation of ‘stuff’. Chaos breeds chaos, and in truth, I know not how to impose order on the situation. Instead of dealing with it, I go for a run, or try to write or chat to a friend over coffee. But with my mum’s dark mutterings in my ear, I set to, and together we ironed and folded and then drank some tea.


As weekends go, this one has been a cracker. Perhaps all this Fathers’ Day BS has a point. Anything which makes you feel grateful or appreciative of all the good people in your life can’t be a bad thing. So a massive thank you to all those who bring sunshine to a Sour Wee Bastard, (especially, for the day that’s in it, to himself.)


SWB on Breast versus Bottle

What a pertinent article by Niamh Mulvey in ‘The Pool‘ this week. Looking back with clarity, when the fog of baby days has finally lifted, I see how almost deranged with guilt I felt when my breast feeding plan failed with my first child. She couldn’t latch on, and by God did I try everything. I watched video tutorials; I stopped random mothers in cafes and in the queue at Sainsbury’s; I pestering midwives. My boobs were banjaxed. I felt rubbish. What was the point of my 34D rack if they couldn’t fulfil their basic function? Why did women smile serenely as they breastfeed, while I yelped in pain and choked back sobs for the duration of my child’s feed?

Except, as my addled brain failed to commute, my supply had dwindled and wee Georgina wasn’t actually been fed at all. Cue a dash to the Ulster with a 3 week old jaundiced, underweight baby. She was starved and for the next few months I felt the weight of my ineptitude. If I think about it long enough, those feelings or shame still flood back.

So thanks Niamh. Sometimes breast feeding doesn’t work out; it doesn’t make you a bad mum, and in the heightened emotional state that new motherhood brings, we need that spelt out for us.


SWB joins the PTA

Another week, another eco-friendly endeavour!  This time I’m harassing people to part with and then buy some new outfits. Just in time for summer!

My friend and I signed up to be joint chair of the PTA at school, which was about 20% altruism on my part and 80% as opportunity to push my environmental agenda. We started off by creating a new stall at the Summer Fair. I sent out notes and before I even admitted to them, a few mums Whats-Apped me saying ‘we know you’re behind this.’ It was, of course, a pre-loved fashion stall and I exhorted kind parents in the school to donate any of their quality used frocks for a good cause. All proceeds went to the PTA, and hurray, hurrah, we made over £125 on the day.


We got well toasted, standing around in the heat, and dare I say it a trifle tiddly too, because there was a prosecco and a gin stall. I’m not kidding. (Wouldn’t happen in a Protestant school, heck no. Far too much craic would be had. Coffee and a tray bake; that would be your lot there.)


It was pleasant, standing in the sun, Bombay Sapphire in hand, flicking through the rails of gorgeous spoils. There were tops by Karen Millen, dresses by Ted Baker and coats by Tommy Hilfiger and Max Mara. They are generous bunch at our school, (or maybe they are just minted) either way, I’m not complaining. In a panic I sent a message to my friends the night before to see what they had on the go, and my pal, the fabulous Jane Kelly, raced home from her work at lunchtime to do a quick raid on her wardrobe. One of the frocks never hit the rails I’m afraid as it was pure McClements. In went my fiver and on went the dress.


I was lucky to have my right hand man on the stall, in the form of LSB. I was worried he’d feel as though he’d had his testicles lopped off with a shearer, being put to work in female fashion for an afternoon, but I was very, very wrong. He was in his element, channelling his inner Del-Boy, or Gok Wan. ‘This would be terrific on you,’ he said, waving tops in front of potential customers.  ‘Any formals to go to? Weddings? This dress has a matching handbag and bolero.’ He didn’t even have any gin (someone had to drive) and he was in quare form. Later on, when it came to dismantling gazebos he got to show off some muscle, so any doubts over masculinity were restored.


Anyway, I can recommend this as an excellent way to bring in some lolly for your PTA. Everyone likes a bargain and we all know we accumulate too much stuf. Better to share and root out your old threads. We’re having one last go today at a ‘pop up stall’ at school to see if we can shift any more items. I must say, I’m quite enjoying myself at this lark.


SWB on taxis and comfort food

‘A dog bowl. I’m telling you, you get your lunch in a f**king dog bowl. Hamburger, cheeseburger, curry chips, cheesey chips. You name it. If it clogs your arteries, you get it. For a fiver. In a dog bowl.’

Our taxi driver is off on one. Proper carried away he is, on the merits of a good-value lunch in the city centre. Mikey’s, apparently. I’ve somehow managed to live in this city for 20 years and remain ignorant as to its existence. Not any more. It’s next door to the Northern Whig which is all shut up at half ten of an evening because the city centre has been rendered a ghost town due to our dinosaur politicians, (so says our driver but I’m inclined to agree.)  But of a weekend, Mikey’s is open til 4 or 5 in the morning, so revellers’ can line their tums and stave off the hangover. And then, they’re ‘up an at it’ again to keep the workforce fed on a Monday morning. I’ve got to try it. Watch out for pictures of me, SWB, eating from an aluminium dog bowl on Instagram, on a phone near you. Can barely contain myself….

‘Woof Woof,’ shouts our Foneacab driver as he drives off into the still-light evening, his right hand waving out the window. I’m telling you; Belfast, what a city.  Would you live anywhere else?